The Riigikogu did not support a proposal by the opposition to reject the marriage referendum bill on Monday and the draft passed its first reading after a four-hour debate.
The proposal submitted by the opposition Reform Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) to reject the bill was voted down with 48 votes for and 51 against.
Isamaa MPs Siim Kiisler, Üllar Saaremäe and Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits voted in favor of rejecting the bill and Isamaa member Mihhail Lotman abstained.
Imre Sooäär, (Center) who has been critical of the marriage referendum, voted against the rejection of the bill. Mihhail Korb (Center) abstained.
The vote needed a majority - 51 - to pass. The parliament will continue the handling of the bill and it will now move on to a second reading.
Earlier on Monday afternoon, a proposal by the opposition parties to drop the resolution concerning the marriage referendum from the agenda of Monday's sitting of the parliament was also rejected by the Riigikogu plenary.
According to the parliament's rules of procedure, the agenda of a sitting cannot be changed if even one party group is against the change. The Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) group declared during the discussion of the agenda that they are against changing it.
In the vote taken on the agenda of the Riigikogu for this week, the agenda was endorsed by a vote of 52 to 46.
MPs from the opposition Reform Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) had filed several proposals to make changes to the agenda of Monday's sitting in a bid to postpone the handling of the resolution on the referendum on the definition of marriage and discuss matters related to the coronavirus crisis instead.
The draft bill related to the marriage referendum was discussed by the Riigikogu for the first time on Monday. The date for the second reading will be discussed on Tuesday.
The third reading of the bill - which will pass it into law if the government agrees - should take place no later than January 18, so the referendum can be held three months later on April 18.
However, the opposition is planning to submit so many amendments to the bill by the December 30 deadline it cannot be passed, similar to the law that would have liquidated the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee. After thousands of amendments were submitted, it was unable to be processed.
The referendum will ask whether marriage should remain between a man and a woman.
Opposition calls on Riigikogu to reject marriage referendum bill
Leader of the opposition Reform Party Kaja Kallas and leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) Indrek Saar on Monday called on the parliament to reject the marriage referendum bill at first reading in the Riigikogu.
Kallas said the planned referendum on marriage is pointless, ridiculous and cruel.
"Generally, we have nothing against referenda. The opinion of the people can be sought in matters of national importance; however, what is being offered to us now is not an issue of national importance," Kallas said, adding that there is no point in polling people about a regulation that already exists.
Spending large amounts of money on holding and campaigning for a referendum in a crisis situation where there is already a lack of funds is pointless, according to Kallas.
"This referendum is ridiculous because we are focusing on an unnecessary topic in the middle of a major crisis," she said. "In addition, it is cruel because it hurts many people."
"Why do we need to divide our families? What is it good for? Who does it benefit? What is made better if we tell some people that their family is not right? Let us please cancel this referendum," Kallas said, and made a proposal to reject the bill at first reading.
The leader of SDE, Indrek Saar, urged MPs of the Center Party and Isamaa to vote against the referendum, which he opined restricts the rights of minorities and dismantles the Estonian state.
"I call on my colleagues in the coalition to please stop this madness and vote against the referendum," he said.
Saar said the referendum, forced upon the coalition by the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE), calls into question the values of the Estonian state.
"After holding a referendum organized with the majority vote of the coalition for the purpose of restricting the rights of minorities, we'll have regressed by several decades - hopelessly back into being a Soviet socialist republic," he added.
Coalition members show support for marriage referendum
Representatives of the governing coalition expressed support on behalf of their parliamentary groups for a referendum to be held in Estonia on the definition of marriage.
Center Party MP Tonis Mõlder said there is nothing more ruinous for a parliamentary democracy than suppressing a debate at any cost, adding the opposition threatening to submit thousands of motions to amend the bill may immobilize the parliament for months or years but it will not strengthen democracy in any way.
Molder said that every polite, restrained, reasonable and well-argued debate strengthens democracy in Estonia.
Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) MP Mart Helme said the planned referendum will reduce the influence of the powers seeking to manipulate representative democracy, and rule out the option of marriage being redefined as anything other than a union between a man and a woman.
Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder said granting additional legal protection to marriage is a necessary step as parties that have previously supported the Registered Partnership Act are seeking to redefine the notion of marriage. Seeder highlighted that the holding of the referendum was also agreed upon as a compromise by the coalition after the general elections.
"The chancellor of justice has unambiguously said that the result of the referendum is binding and can only be changed after a new referendum. If the majority of the respondents in the referendum answer in the positive, a majority vote in the parliament will no longer be sufficient for regularizing same-sex marriage and redefining marriage. It would be a fundamentally different situation from the one we have now," he said.
Editor: Helen Wright